Ditch the elevator pitch

I don’t recall exactly when I heard the term elevator pitch. If I was going to take a guess, it was probably well over a decade ago, when I embarked on grad school. I will readily admit that the concept was initially intriguing. By way of a recap, the elevator pitch is intended to be a prepared summary of an idea, product or service in 20-60 seconds. About the time it takes to ride in an elevator (hence the term.) Presumably, having practiced an elevator pitch puts you at ease, since you are prepared at the drop of a hat (or when the elevator doors close). The goal of such a delivery is to catch someone’s attention long enough to continue the conversation, at a later date, with a more in-depth discussion. This was appealing to me, because I: a.) like to be prepared and b.) it seemed like a reliable technique to easily launch into conversations.

In retrospect, it didn’t work at all. To be frank, it was an epic failure. Perhaps it was my delivery or my tendency to overthink such things. It has taken me many years to learn that it just does not work for me. The reason: the elevator pitch is deeply flawed in that it is intended to be a one-size-fits-all solution. If you stick to the script it is nearly impossible to shift gears and customize the discussion. When someone asks me, “What do you do?” or I ask them to “tell me about your company,” I assume that this is intended to open a dialogue, not that they will launch into a script. The goal is to make a genuine connection.

Much to my disappointment, genuine connections cannot be preplanned.

If the elevator pitch is working for you, then by all means, stick to the script and feel free to stop reading right here. If you are ready to ditch the pitch, here are some alternatives:

First things first, spend less time talking about you and more time talking about them. A very smart man once said, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” While active listening might take more practice than reciting that elevator speech, it will provide immeasurable insight into how you may be able to assist each other moving forward.

To get them talking, ask open-ended questions to learn as much about them as you can. Instead of composing your speech, compose some interesting questions that will build a conversation. The way in which these questions are phrased can make the difference between a very brief conversation and one that lends itself to making a genuine connection. We have all found ourselves asking, “How was 2016?” and having them respond with a brief, “It was good.” You then find yourself looking for the next question. After about 5 or 6 of those in rapid succession you feel like this is more of an inquisition than a conversation. You have to be more creative in phrasing your questions. For instance, try asking, “How did you find yourself in this line of work?” or “What do you think your biggest challenge will be in 2017?” Before you know it, you are in a real, deeply exploratory conversation about their business and how you might be able to assist them.

People want to do business with people that have a vested interest in their success. I know that I am only as successful as my clients/company/employees that I serve. Convey that you care about the project, the company, the problem they are facing and be genuine. If they know you are working hard for them, they will appreciate that effort. That is where real connections are made.

While you should be respectful of their time, if you have made a genuine connection, don’t walk away until you have discussed what the next step is. If there is a real need to build that relationship, this should come naturally. Traditionally this a “call to action” but you can think of it as asking for a follow-up. By simply stating that you are really interested in continuing the conversation and asking if you can give them a call tomorrow/next week/later in the month, to discuss how you can help them. Hint: they should say “yes.”

Lastly, while you should give them a business card, there is another technique to stay in contact that is even more powerful. We all have our cellphones in our pockets. Take it out and send them an email right then and there. They now have your contact information, even if that business card ends up on the floor of their car or the bottom of their purse.

Feel free to exit the elevator on the next floor.

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